Something big happened on Friday.

I knew a pastor long ago and far away who wrote his sermons 4-6 months in advance. I wrote mine at 3 am Sunday morning (I had to be in the shower by 6, or I’d miss worship). I “justified” my procrastination by saying I was waiting for the latest word from the Holy Spirit. He defended his by noting that he would drop in relevant cultural references when the time came.

What sort of sermon would have to have been written last August for the massacre of 6-year-olds to be merely a relevant cultural reference?

To the preacher where I was a guest worshipper this week: I’m sorry your sermon was done for the week, but something big happened on Friday and it needed proclamation. The best you could do was a disclaimer on the front end that “evil wins if we allow tragedy to overshadow our Christmas joy”? Really?

I KNOW it was Joy Sunday, pink candle on the wreath and all that. I also know that shit happens. Bad stuff. Evil. Things that cause us great pain. Not even just national events, or international ones. But stuff. Someone died, or was diagnosed, or disappeared, or was driven to despair. Someone we love, or didn’t know at all. Not just once in a while, but EVERY WEEK, daily perhaps. There is always something. So what does it mean to be a preacher, a proclaimer of grace and hope and, yes, joy, in such a world?

Here is my word to you, Preacher, and to whatever readers are paying attention: Proleptic. We talk about something that hasn’t happened yet as if it has. It is the reason we need Advent, and cannot emotionally just leap into Christmas from Halloween or Thanksgiving. Advent is the reminder that what we want most – a world free of pain, despair and all manner of evil, a world transformed by love into a paradise of abundance – is something that we don’t have yet. The “joy” Sunday of Advent is proleptic at best, a muted celebration of something that we are confident is on the way. Like the difference between hearing the announcement of a peace treaty and welcoming your child home from a POW camp. Two very different moments, very different celebrations.

Of COURSE tragedy overshadows the celebration. Of COURSE it dims the joy, and how dare we suggest otherwise.  To glibly go on with our festivities while families mourn is unkind, disconnected. Yes, we eat feasts while others are still starving. We would accept with joy a transplanted organ, but not without remembrance of the family mourning the death that has allowed this life. We receive blessings in context, always in context, and we dedicate ourselves to the building up of a world where suffering is reduced, where blessings are shared, where transformation is complete and joy can be the immediate response.

But we live in Advent; the world is broken, and families are broken-hearted. It is the week of joy, but the joy is the dim promise that it won’t always be this way. Some days the joy is dimmer than others.

Today our candles are hope and solidarity. Something big happened on Friday. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was the last time?